Printing and Colour Management

Home Printing photographs is becoming an increasingly popular option, as it can be cost effective (especially when producing larger prints) and there can be greater control over the finished print.  However, many people who are new to this find that the colors that they thought they captured or saw on the computer screen aren’t quite what they see on the finished print.  This is because your camera, computer and printer all interpret color differently.  Color management is the way to solve this problem.

Color management is a way of creating a set of accurate and uniform colors in your workflow (which is what your working environment is called).  Remember that when you download in image on to your camera there are many variables to take into consideration; the camera you used, the lens you used, the software you use to read the images, your computer, your graphics card, your monitor, your printer etc.  Each one of these elements will have its own idea of say, what red looks like (so you may get a pillar box red from your camera but a deep blood red from your monitor – which red is right?).  With color management we can get these representations uniform so that there is consistency in the finished result.  This is especially important if your work professionally as clients will not be happy with various shades of colors (hence many of them need to see a ‘proof’ copy).

Monitor Calibration

Monitor Calibration is done so that the colors that show on your monitor are optimized and look true.  This way your finished print will also have a better finish.  You can use a piece of hardware called a colorimeter, which looks like a small round plastic disc and can be stuck to the front of a monitor.  This is powered by USB and it will tell your monitor what the colors should be (compared to international standards).  This takes around 5 mintes to do, but you do need the special hardware and sfotware that comes with it.

Monitor Profiling

Once you have attached the colorimeter to your screen, you need to create a ICC profile (this is done automatically with the software).  This is a set of colors that are universally recognized – this way if you email an image from your computer to someone elses they should see the same thing.

Printer Calibration

When you calibrate your printer, you are making sure that the print you get matches what you see on the screen.  This is important if you don’t want to waste ink and paper whilst trying to make the colors match up.  Before you calibrate the printer though, you should do your monitor first.  Most colorimeters will deal with your printer as well as your monitor and use the same ICC file so that the colors match up.  Refer to the instructions of your manufacturer to find out exactly how to do this.

Printer Profiling

A printer profile is a print out that is full of square of various colors.  You can select the number of squares and colors that are printed out and this will produce a more accurate result.  Refer to the software that you use with your printer to see if it has a setting for printing out a profile – otherwise you can do a Google search to find a printer profiling chart and print this out instead.  You then have to use a tool called a spectrophotometer, which lets you measure the colors that have been printed out row by row.  Once this profile has been created, your images should be more accurate than before.

If you are serious about color photography and printing it at home then it is worth investing in a spectrophotometer and a colorimeter.  These aren’t cheap but aren’t earth shatteringly expensive either, plus you can find the equipment second hand sometimes on sites like eBay.  For the small amount of effort involved you can get accurate color reproduction and prints that show off how good your images really are.

February 17, 2009

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